- Associated Press - Friday, January 9, 2015

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) - The writer faces nothing so daunting as the blank page staring back. Amanda Davies knows this. And she meets the challenge that empty space poses.

In this particular case, the blank page had been conquered, through many early morning sprees on her laptop computer and marathon weekend sessions. And almost four weeks later, somewhere on the Kansas Turnpike headed for Texas, she celebrated in a vehicle the 50,000th word, the St. Joseph News-Press (https://bit.ly/177LQ7Z).

With days to spare.

This challenge, nationally sponsored but self-imposed, arose from a nonprofit creativity project known as National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to begin on Nov. 1 and, by 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 30, have 50,000 words of a book written.

With a lot of drive and the encouragement of peers at the Rolling Hills Library Writers Club in St. Joseph, Davies met the goal on Nov. 27.

An exhortation from the passenger side came with this achievement. “There were probably some inappropriate words in there,” she laughs.

A history lover, a pet lover and a photographer by training, Davies describes herself as a person long interested in writing but too often distracted and bored by the process.

Among fellow writers at Rolling Hills Library, she felt in a good place to finally harness these skills. And the month-long challenge, accepted by about 400,000 people worldwide in 2014, gave her a structure she could work with.

“It was a way that clicked for me,” she says.

In order to meet the count, the writer needed to get 1,667 words on paper each day. As reference for this volume of text, think of three columns of this newspaper page, top to bottom, no headlines, no photographs. And every day.

Davies managed this, without putting too fine a point on it, simply by managing it. She plunged in and kept plunging.

“When you’ve got a deadline, it makes things easier,” she says, though adding, “There was a lot of getting up at 5 and 5:30 in the morning.”

Holding a full-time job - she works as events coordinator for the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce - does not allow for a set schedule at the computer keyboard. She did not have the luxury of writing when the muse visited; instead, she had to summon creativity when moments presented themselves.

One Sunday, a bit panicked at being behind from having houseguests, Davies settled onto her basement couch, occasionally with a cat crawling over her, and cranked out 8,000 words.

Jennifer Callow, a former Rolling Hills staffer who helped found the Writer’s Bloc workshop series at the library, finds Davies’ dedication admirable. The writer did what was suggested in project materials, and what was necessary, to meet the word threshold.

“The idea for the month of November is, turn off your internal editor,” Callow says. “Don’t be afraid. Just get those thoughts down.”

Davies based the book, a work of historical fiction set during the American Revolution, on an ancestor. A member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, she has been active in genealogy and used her distant kin, with changed names, as characters.

“I had done enough research that they were already kind of alive for me,” the writer says. “They were in my head already.”

Getting the relationships of the characters down and developing dialogue among them occupied much of her time. Her next work will be fleshing out the details of their everyday lives - what they ate, what they wore, the routines of 18th-century life in Massachusetts.

During November, the Texas native denied herself any leisure reading that did not involve the period of the Revolution.

In the coming months, she will participate in the Writers Club editing circles and attend other library workshops, hoping to get feedback on the words she produced. Callow believes having peers around can hasten discipline and help refine the work.

“Holding themselves accountable to us as a group has been a big motivator,” Callow says.

Amanda Davies understands that the work ahead may be less frenetic but no less painstaking. There are paragraphs to massage, dialogue to punch up and structure to recalculate. She expects to grimace at some of her sentences and perhaps marvel that she got other things just right.

What she knows for a fact, though, is that 50,000 of her words have been put into place, ready to be built upon.


Information from: St. Joseph News-Press/St. Joe, Missouri, https://www.newspressnow.com

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